Barges of Brine on Ohio River?
Plan for Pennsylvania ‘fracking’ waste on hold
14 January 2013
By Spencer Hunt
A Texas-based company’s plan to ship thousands of barrels of
“fracking” waste into Ohio on river barges has been put on hold as
federal officials investigate environmental questions.
GreenHunter Water, of Grapevine, Texas, bought and refurbished
liquid-storage tanks at an Ohio River terminal in New Matamoras in
southeastern Ohio. The terminal could serve as a transfer point to
truck the waste to three disposal wells that the company owns in
But the plan was put on hold in June after U.S. Coast Guard
officials told GreenHunter that they need to decide whether the
waste, also called brine, can be transported as river cargo, and
if so, how. Environmental advocates contend that the brine is a
“That particular material is not in our charts yet, so it’s not
allowed to be transferred,” said Carlos Diaz, a Coast Guard
spokesman. “We want to make sure we make a final decision that’s
been thoroughly studied.”
Barges add a new wrinkle to the flood of waste fluids washing into
Ohio from the thousands of natural-gas wells drilled into
Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.
Drillers rely on fracking, a process in which millions of gallons
of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to shatter the
shale and free trapped gas. A similar fracking boom is under way
in Ohio’s Utica shale.
Some of the fracking fluid bubbles back up, along with saltwater
trapped underground for millions of years. The brine contains
spent fracking chemicals, high concentrations of salt and
naturally occurring metals and radium.
Millions of barrels of waste are injected back underground in Ohio
disposal wells. State records show that 12.2 million barrels of
fracking waste and brine were injected in the first half of 2012,
56 percent of which came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The brine started arriving in Ohio in 2010 after a Pennsylvania
decision that barred sewage-treatment plants from taking it and
dumping it in streams. Most of the out-of-state brine comes from
Pennsylvania, where there are only a handful of federally
regulated disposal wells.
In Ohio, state regulators oversee 179 disposal wells.
Much of the brine comes in tanker trucks that can hold 80 to 150
barrels. Diaz said GreenHunter wants to use a tanker barge that
can hold 10,000 barrels. The company’s website says the storage
tanks at the New Matamoras terminal can hold as much as 70,000
John Jack, GreenHunter’s vice president of business development
for its Appalachian region, said barge transport is safer and more
cost-efficient than hauling by truck. One barge can haul as much
as 1,050 trucks, he said.
“We wanted to eliminate a lot of the trucking,” he said. “We
decided barging was the best way to do this.”
The company announced in February and October that it had
purchased three disposal wells in Washington County. Officials at
the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which regulates drilling
and disposal wells, said GreenHunter also is converting an old oil
and gas well to a disposal well.
Disposal-well regulators have visited the New Matamoras terminal,
said Bethany McCorkle, a Natural Resources spokeswoman. She said
the terminal opened in July and meets state standards for a
temporary storage facility. “An inspector has been there once a
month,” she said.
Environmental advocates worry that a barge carrying brine could
run into a bridge or another vessel and break apart.
“The (Ohio) River is drinking water for some people,” said Teresa
Mills, the Ohio organizer for the Center for Health, Environment
Mills and other environmental advocates argue that brine is a
threat to drinking water and should be classified as a hazardous
The Coast Guard has no timetable for making a decision on the
barge, Diaz said. “Our guys are working this really hard. We are
going to be as thorough as we need to.”
Jack said a decision could come in the next two weeks. He’s
optimistic the Coast Guard will allow brine for river transport.
“Barges ship hydrochloric acid,” Jack said.